Boston Bruins 2012-13: Are Expectations Too High for Dougie Hamilton?
Even with the season in doubt due to lockout, Hamilton is on the preseason short list for Calder Trophy consideration as rookie of the year and he should be ready for the challenge.
Topping out at 6'5" and weighing in at more than 200 pounds, Hamilton is a supreme physical specimen.
Hockey's Future describes him as an "immense, mobile defenseman who excels in all three zones. Dougie Hamilton’s athleticism shows in his skating, where he has the speed to recover and catch players if he gets beat on a pinch, the mobility to turn and retrieve dump-ins before opposing forecheckers, and the shiftiness to carry the puck and beat defenders one-on-one."
In 2011-12, Hamilton dominated Ontario Hockey League competition playing for the Niagara Ice Dogs. His solid defense led to a +37 rating, ranking fourth in the OHL. At the other end of the rink, Hamilton led all defensemen with 72 points. Hamilton's point total is all the more impressive because he scored 12 more points than runner-up Cody Ceci while playing 14 fewer games.
Hamilton's tremendous season earned him the Max Kaminsky Trophy as the OHL's most outstanding defenseman. In claiming the Max Kaminsky Trophy, Hamilton joins an elite fraternity of past recipients that includes Drew Doughty, Marc Staal and Chris Pronger.
He also won the Bobby Smith Trophy, which honors academic excellence combined with a high standard of play, and has previously been won by Steven Stamkos, Matt Duchene and Dustin Brown.
After such prolific success in junior hockey, Hamilton cannot help but accept the high expectations with which he is saddled. Fortunately for Hamilton, he is absolutely ready to take the NHL by storm.
Since being drafted ninth overall in 2011, with a pick received from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Phil Kessel trade that also brought Tyler Seguin to Boston, Hamilton has become a sensational prospect. The once lanky Hamilton has filled out considerably, and has developed an overlooked defensive game to complement his unquestioned offensive skills.
According to Hockey's Future, Hamilton "has an active stick that he uses to break up players trying to beat him one-on-one and to disrupt passing plays. Reads the play well. Is highly intelligent both on and off the ice. Also has a burgeoning physical game and shows a penchant for big open ice hits."
In the NHL, Hamilton will eventually be acknowledged for his excellent two-way game, rather than just his dazzling offensive skills. However, his impact in Boston will be most evident on the power play. The Bruins have been abysmal with the man-advantage for several years now and Hamilton's ability to quarterback the power play will be a huge asset.
The trouble for Hamilton will be the shock of jumping directly from juniors to the NHL. Hamilton, who has returned to the Niagara Ice Dogs for the remainder of the lockout, is currently the big fish in a small pond, that must be shrinking from his perspective every day. In contrast, first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov is preparing himself for NHL competition by playing in Russia's KHL.
The Calder Trophy is certainly an achievable goal for Hamilton, but his success at the next level cannot be judged by whether he wins the award. If the 2012-13 NHL season ever begins, Hamilton will face growing pains and a major shock to the system when he is no longer at the top of the food chain.
Points will not come so easily at the next level, and NHL forwards will be able to exploit problems in Hamilton's defensive game that his athleticism used to obscure. However, if Hamilton stays confident, success will follow rather quickly.
Hamilton's success will likely be more evident in years two and three when his physical size catches up to his ability. Hamilton projects to be an elite two-way defender that will succeed Zdeno Chara as the Bruins' top blue-liner in the years to come. The only thing Hamilton really lacks is the maturity that comes with NHL experience.
For now, Hamilton is stuck playing against teenagers in the OHL, where he will continue to star until the lockout is over. As of Oct. 9, Hamilton has seven points in seven games and is on pace for another prolific season. The Bruins will hope that an extended stay in juniors does not stunt the future star's development.
If Hamilton continues to develop at his current rate, massive expectations are fair. However, it must be remembered that stars do not rise in a day. Even if Hamilton's start is slower than hoped, he can still become a reliable defender in black and gold for years to come.
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